Tag Archives: Substantial Compliance Doctrine

FedEx can deliver HCLA pre-suit notice letters, too, holds Tennessee Supreme Court

By Daniel A. Horwitz

In yet another round of litigation concerning Tennessee’s medical malpractice statute (known as the Health Care Liability Act, or the HCLA), the Tennessee Supreme Court has held that litigants may use commercial carriers like FedEx to deliver pre-suit notice letters.  This holding is significant because the HCLA specifically provides that pre-suit notice letters must be delivered by “the United States postal service.”[1]  Thus, by excusing a plaintiff’s technical non-compliance with the HCLA’s  service requirement, the Court’s decision in Arden v. Kozawa represents a further extension of the “substantial compliance doctrine,” which this author has previously described as “the rule that ‘close is close enough.’”[2]  Furthermore, Arden represents yet another iteration of the Court’s view that “[s]o long as a health care defendant is not prejudiced” by a plaintiff’s procedural errors, “substantial compliance with . . . statutory requirements will suffice.”[3]

The underlying law in Arden was not in dispute.  Before filing a medical malpractice claim, Tennessee law “require[s] medical malpractice plaintiffs to satisfy six pre-suit ‘notice requirements[.]’”[4] Those requirements include, for example, providing a medical malpractice defendant (usually a doctor or a hospital): (1) “[t]he full name and date of birth of the patient whose treatment is at issue;”[5] (2) “[t]he name and address of the attorney sending the notice, if applicable;”[6] and (3) “[a] HIPAA compliant medical authorization permitting the provider receiving the notice to obtain complete medical records from each other provider being sent a notice.”[7]  Of note, the HCLA also states that plaintiffs must demonstrate that pre-suit notice was actually provided to defendants through either “[p]ersonal delivery of the notice”[8] or “[m]ailing of the notice.”[9]

If a plaintiff chooses to mail the notice, rather than hand-delivering it (something that avoids a great deal of angst, as nobody—doctors included—enjoys being personally served with notice of an impending lawsuit), then the HCLA states that proof of mailing: “shall be demonstrated by filing a certificate of mailing from the United States postal service[.]”[10]  In Arden, the plaintiff’s attorney admitted that Continue reading FedEx can deliver HCLA pre-suit notice letters, too, holds Tennessee Supreme Court